Story Emporium #1

In 2015, Science Fiction Trails publisher David B. Riley experimented again with the annual magazine he put out. The weird western tales of the defunct Science Fiction Trails and the steampunk of Steampunk Trails were combined into Story Emporium.

Review: Story Emporium #1: Purveyors of Steampunk & Weird Western Adventure, ed. J. A. Campbell, 2015.

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Cover by M. Wayne Miller

A lot of the usual contributors to Science Fiction Trails’ publications are here and a lot of those writers continue their long running series in the magazine.

But let’s start with the writers new to me.

Dan Thwaite’s “The Duel” is bit Sergio Leonish in its ever-slowing pace and repetition of details as the climax nears. But it’s not very effective. A gunfighter come to town. His high noon opponent is a clock in a tower. He shoots it but dies. I suppose this is some kind of metaphor about how time and death catch up to us all.

K. G. Anderson’s “Escape from the Lincoln County Courthouse” is a secret history and a good one at that. Jewish magic and the Kabbala are spliced into the conventional history of Billy the Kid. It’s narrator, a woman named Shulamit, flees her home to escape an arranged marriage to a man she never met. With her, in the trunk on the stagecoach, is a golem made by her grandfather. Others want the golem, and Billy the Kid intervenes to save Shulamit when an attempt is made to steal it. Continue reading “Story Emporium #1”

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“Judgment Day”

Review: “Judgment Day”, James Gunn, 1992.Uncollected Gunn 1

My look at the unpublished works of James Gunn continues with a look at the fourteenth story he wrote. It was written in 1951 while Gunn was finishing up his master’s thesis Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis.

This one takes up a mere three pages in The Unpublished Gunn, Part One.

It opens with a description of a dead Earth, its surface only disturbed by wind and the sea bereft of life.

There is a spaceship on it and five “man-like” figures discuss what they are finding in their survey, discuss without speech “nor yet telepathy”.

‘Dead’, the Philosopher said. ‘Quite dead.

‘Too late,’ the Psychologist, behind, said softly. ‘We were too late.’

The other characters with allegorical-type names are identified only as the Biologist, the Archaeologist, and the Sociologist. Continue reading ““Judgment Day””

“Et In Sempiternum Pereant”

This week’s weird fiction is from Charles Williams.

He wrote several fantasy novels infused with Christian theology. He was admired by his fellow Inklings J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Modern writer Tim Powers is a fan.

He wrote seven novels — none of which I’ve read though I have a couple in the house. This is the only piece of short fiction he wrote. It’s main — and only character — Lord Arglay shows up in Williams’ Many Dreams though I’m told there is little connection.

Review: “Et In Sempiternum Pereant”, Charles Williams, 1935.51nXgQyPhqL

The title translates from Latin as “and may they be forever damned”, and the ending Latin phrase, is from the conclusion of Dante’s Inferno and translates as “and thence we issued forth to see again the stars”.

The story is rather simple in events though their portent is not clear.

The protagonist, seemingly the only human in the story, is Lord Arglay.

He is walking a country road to visit a friend and his collection of unpublished legal opinions of Lord Chancellor Bacon. The road is somewhat strange. Arglay, who prides himself for his good sense of duration (though that was when he was younger — fleeting thoughts about aging figure in the story’s beginning), is puzzled that his sense of time doesn’t match what his watch says. The grove he passes also doesn’t seem to be receding as fast as he expected. Is he just slower now that he’s older?

Then he sees a house in a passage through a hedge. Massive amounts of smoke is pouring from its chimney – though he didn’t see it in the sky earlier. Continue reading ““Et In Sempiternum Pereant””

“Sane Asylum”

The unintended James Gunn summer project continues, this time with a look at more of his fiction.

Starting in 1992, two chapbooks of Gunn’s work were issued: The Unpublished Gunn, parts one and two.

They included nine of the 92 pieces of short fiction he had written to that date. In his introduction to part one, Gunn says he’s publishing these stories because he has a sense of unfinished business at not seeing a completed story in print. In particular, he is puzzled as to why these stories were rejected when he discerns no difference in quality between them and stories he did get published at the same time. He wants to them put before the world.

I’ll be looking at each of those nine stories individually.

Review: “Sane Asylum”, James Gunn, 1992.Uncollected Gunn 1

This was the fourth story Gunn wrote, and he says his initial ambition was to publish it in Bluebook. (Presumably this refers to Blue Book Magazine, a general fiction pulp magazine that had a long run from 1905 to 1956.)

Using the chronology of Gunn’s compositions in Michael R. Page’s Saving the World Through Science Fiction, that would mean this story was written in 1948 or 1949, so the influence of Fritz Leiber’s “Coming Attraction”, a story much admired by Gunn, is not present. Yet, despite the different subjects and themes of the two stories, both are science fiction tales that postulate social changes and little or no technological changes. Here, the only bit of advanced technology is radio earpieces worn by the attendants at Willows Mental Hospital and that look like hearing aids. In fact, Gunn’s agent, Frederik Pohl, tried to sell the piece to the non-science fiction magazine Suspense.

Gunn’s story actually is more reminiscent of Philip K. Dick though there is, of course, no direct connection given that Dick hadn’t published anything yet. But we are in a sort of similar territory with the questioning of reality. Continue reading ““Sane Asylum””

Modern SF: Plots of Creation, Experiments

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And my look at James Gunn’s Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis continues and concludes. I’ll be looking at some more of Gunn’s fiction, but this will be the last look at his critical work for a while.

We’re at the final plot in Gunn’s critical schema: plots of creation involving experiments other than the creation of chemical and mechanical life.

Gunn sees this plot, unlike the creation of life and artificial minds, as more realistic because the ultimate is not often sought. These experiments aren’t about creating life or minds. The experiments these stories deal with, therefore, have more plausibility.

Gunn divides this type of plot into three categories: the experiment that helps mankind with a problem, the experiment that gets out of control, and the experiment that causes new problems. Continue reading “Modern SF: Plots of Creation, Experiments”

Modern SF: Plots About Creating Life

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The look at James Gunn’s Modern Science Fiction: A Critical Analysis continues with “plots of creation”, specifically ones where life is created.

Gunn is no vitalist, so he draws no distinction between “chemical life” and “mechanical life”. The former is based (as far as we know) exclusively on carbon, the former is based on inorganic compounds. Chemical life is “vitalized in the cell; mechanical life is vitalized in the ‘mind’ and power center”.

Of course, the creation of artificial life and seemingly sentient machines has a history before sf. It features in legend and folklore. There’s even a flying brass horse in The Canterbury Tales.

Creating “chemical life” seems more magical, a veritable resurrection of the dead according to Gunn. By doing that, humans assume God-like powers as opposed to creating “mechanical life” which has more the air of supreme artisanship or mechanical skill though, especially when creating machines that seem or are sentient, it can also seem God-like. Continue reading “Modern SF: Plots About Creating Life”

Maid of Baikal

This one came to me unsolicited from Mr. Fleming who thought I might be interested given that I’ve reviewed other alternate histories.

I agreed to review it given its original premise and, frankly, I was rather hoping the fanatical Baron Ungern-Sternberg would show up. (He doesn’t)

Review: Maid of Baikal, Preston Fleming, 2017.514j1MYvOSL

That original subtitle in my review copy, “A Speculative Historical Novel of the Russian Civil War”, hints that alternate history fans should not expect any distinct Jonbars, turning points, or “sharp agate points” (to borrow Winston Churchill’s phrase when he dabbled in alternate history) where our history diverges from Fleming’s story.

Instead, Fleming has done something else that may or may not be too much for an alternate history buff to swallow. He has given us a sincere tale of miracles and prophecies and clairvoyance. He’s given us a Russian Joan of Arc.

I’m not spoiling anything by saying that. Fleming is open about it in the description of his book, and he is true to his conceit by presenting a close analogy to the Maid of Orleans in his story. The visions of Zhanna Stepanovich Dorokhina are real, and she achieves real victories that match her prophecies.

This spiritual element didn’t bother me nor the absence of a traditional alternate history turning point. There is, of course, no known example of any such figure in the Russian Civil War. Continue reading “Maid of Baikal”